Mohammed Sagiru will not harvest any rice at the end of this farming season. No thanks to devastating floods that ravaged his rice farm in Kebbi State, north-west Nigeria.
Mr Sagiru, in his 30s, is a rice farmer in Argungu, a community known for its robust rice farming, among other grains it produces. But floods continue to affect farming activities every rainy season, destroying crops and rendering community dwellers homeless.
This year, the young farmer, with a wife and two kids, is distraught and dejected following the complete damage to his farm by the floods.
“We experience this loss every year, but it depends on the amount of rainfall,” he told this reporter. “Sometimes, we lose some and other times we lose everything. But this year, I did not get anything. The rain was too much.”
Standing in the middle of his farm, located in a swampy area where the bulk of the rice from Kebbi is grown, Mr Sagiru said “not even a grain of rice was harvested from my farm this year.”
He noted that the rains this year were as much as those of 2020 when farmers in the state said the floods were like they had never seen before.
“Usually, I could get 20 bags of rice from an acre but this year, I got nothing. In the previous year, even though the flood came and ruined some part of my farm, I got 15 bags,” Mr Sagiru noted.
Findings by PREMIUM TIMES revealed that two factors may have contributed to Mr Sagiru’s loss of all his crops: use of the local seedlings variety which is not resistant to harsh conditions, and ignorance of weather forecasts.
The Permanent Secretary of Kebbi State Ministry of Agriculture, Joel Aiki, said the state, in collaboration with Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMet), constantly shares weather forecasts and advisories on when to resume planting for the season. These are shared through various channels, especially radio.
But there are limitations. “The downscaled weather prediction results have not entered every community up till now; many communities cannot access them,” Mr Aiki told PREMIUM TIMES.
It is this limitation that has led to losses experienced by farmers like Mohammed Sagiru, who confirmed that he never received any advisory.
Like Mr Sagiru, many other Kebbi farmers lost everything to the floods.
But some did not.
Maigandu’s bountiful harvests
In direct contrast to Mr Sagiru’s ordeal is Hamza Maigandu, a community seed producer, who is excited about a bountiful harvest after adhering to planting guidelines he got from NiMET and the seed council.
He told this reporter that he followed every step outlined by the relevant authorities because he wanted to gain maximally. “Once you follow all the instructions, you definitely will do well.”
In 2021, Mr Maigandu with the support of the National Agricultural Seed Council, Nigeria’s agency in charge of seed research and development, started using improved rice varieties in order to improve his harvest. He said he has since been pleased with the outcome.
“I started using improved varieties due to various reasons including early maturity; good quantity and quality in terms of harvest, and resistance to flood,” he said.
“For instance, we are told that the FARO 67 variety is resistant to flooding and once you abide by all the advice given, you will hardly lose anything to flood,” he said.
The other variety Mr Maigandu uses is the FARO 44 which is famous for good yield and early maturity. He explained that for FARO 44, a farmer has to plant it ahead of the rains for great yield.
“Estimating the effect of the floods on my farm, out of 100 per cent, only 10 per cent was affected. And I planted FARO 44 in some of the areas where we would dare not plant anything in the rainy season and I got a very good yield,” he said happily.
The success stories of people like Mr Maigandu are, however, not removing skepticism from some farmers.
“Farming requires money and it is also a determinant of the kind of yield one gets. If you are able to put your money together and plant early then you are sure of a good yield because your crops would be ready or almost ready before the flood season,” another rice farmer, Lubabatu Usman, told this reporter.
Mrs Usman is the women leader of the Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria in Kebbi State.
Mr Sagiru expressed a similar position as Mrs Usman.
Based on the NiMET advice, farmers along the flood plains now plant early so that when the floods come, the crops are already up. So even if the crops are submerged, when the floods recede to a certain level, the crops continue to grow. However, low, early or small crops will be lost.
Farmers said that based on the forecast, they now plant between March and April as against the traditional June and July planting season.
There are two planting seasons for Kebbi farmers, the rainy season and the dry season. The rainy season is fraught with a lot of rain and flooding challenges.
In the dry season, farmers are faced with the challenge of providing water/moisture for their plants.
According to Mr Maigandu, farmers in the upland move to the lowland during the dry season in order to have access to irrigation.
“Irrigation supply is difficult in the upland,” he said.
Water stored in wells and irrigation pumps is used to nurture crops planted in the dry season to fruition.
He noted that limited crops are planted in the dry season. The upland becomes arid thereby making it difficult for crops to thrive.
“We plant rice, wheat, groundnut, maize, tomatoes, cucumber, pepper, and onions in the lowland during this period. While planting, we pay attention to the unique needs of the crops,” he told this reporter.
For instance, wheat and groundnut need minimal water to thrive and are not planted on the same soil as the other crops.
“The change in harvest around here is determined by the rainfall,” Mrs Usman told PREMIUM TIMES. “If the rain is too much, it submerges the rice and at the end of the day, the farmer does not get what they are meant to get. Some years, if by God’s grace the rain is not too much, the harvest is better.”
Narrating how this year’s rains affected farmers, she said: “honestly, this year, some parts of my farm were affected by the excess rain. We call it ‘ruwan kwano’ in Hausa. Once that kind of rain comes, just forget about your crops because you already know the loss that will follow.
“For my siblings and I, we are still following the age-long practice our father taught us. Because we anticipate these rains, we dig up wells where the water and the fish it comes with will be held and we grow them and sell them to reduce the cost of the loss brought by the flood.”
Mrs Usman told this reporter that while some of the farmers had some food crops to go home with after the floods, others lost out totally. She said if they experienced similar rainfall for two consecutive years, the local government authorities would be informed and “they would usually support us, knowing our losses.”
“Without the flood, my siblings and I get an average of 100 bags of rice from one hectare. This number reduces drastically to 40 to 50 bags during the floods. For instance, this year, I did not get a good yield.
“I cannot remember the exact amount I put into my farm this year but estimating, if you invest N500,000 in the farm, with the flood, you will barely recover N250,000 with all the stress,” Mrs Usman said.
When there is no flooding, she said an investment of N750,000 could yield at least N1.5 million.
“But there is a particular rice seed that is able to withstand the flood provided you plant it early. It grows taller than even a human being, no matter the amount of rain or flood, it does not succumb,” Mrs Usman said.
Recent history of improved seeds in Kebbi
In 2015 when the Central Bank of Nigeria launched the Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP) to boost rice production in Nigeria, Kebbi State became a major beneficiary. Farmers were introduced to improved seed varieties which helped increase their yields.
As of 2005/2006, the state had a rice yield of about 3.5 tonnes per hectare. But after ABP was introduced, yields increased to an average of five tonnes per hectare, according to the permanent secretary, Mr Aiki.
Although these seeds were originally meant to increase production, farmers began to ask for certain varieties of the improved seeds as soon as they observed they also withstand harsh weather realities like increased pest infestation, attacks by Quelea birds, encroaching deserts, and the annual flood the Northwestern Nigeria experiences.
Quelea birds are small weaver birds native to sub-Saharan Africa and renowned for their attacks on small-grain crops in Africa. It is the most numerous bird species in the world, with a peak post-breeding population estimated at 1.5 billion.
According to Mr Aiki, initially, the emphasis was just on the yield. But over the years, as the climate change impact became obvious, scientists, the ministry and the farmers had to buck up for the events.
“Farmers were making demands for specific varieties; sometimes the weather situation encourages blooming of pest situations, either you have grasshoppers or Quelea birds. They just multiply and so scientists will have to devise varieties that are going to tackle these situations,” he said.
He said his ministry has various varieties, ranging from those that tackle only one parameter to some addressing two and others addressing three issues, “all relating to productivity, food security, and then climate mitigation.”
For instance, the ministry introduced a millet variety with spikes all over the panicle (SOSAT), similar to the Indian Pearl millet, so that when the birds come to feed on the grains, the spikes poke their eyes or nose thereby driving them away.
SOSAT is also used in Kebbi to address other challenges aside from bird attacks.
Other farmers testify
Climate change takes various forms, including changes in rainfall patterns, rising sea levels, warmer temperatures and pest outbreaks, among others.
Danjuma Abubakar, another rice farmer in Kebbi, said there are seven varieties of rice, including one that is very adaptive. “As the water approaches this variety, it grows taller, sometimes even taller than you,” he told this reporter, “provided that flood does not hit it with so much intensity.”
READ ALSO: SPECIAL REPORT: How poor infrastructure worsened flood disasters in states across Nigeria
According to Mr Abubakar, the flood affected their farms this year a lot; but farms located a little uphill were less affected than others in the valley.
Pointing in the direction of the parts of the field where losses were high, he said: “If you go into the farm over there, great loss of rice was recorded due to flood. In the previous year, the flood was not as much as this year’s and we got a few harvests.”
Femi Royal, a postgraduate student of International Agricultural Development at the University of Reading, England, said improved seeds are a very critical foundation for modernising agriculture food systems in Africa.
“If the seed is bad, the farmers can achieve nothing,” he said. Farmers in Africa, he noted, continue to face issues with seeds viability and yield index because of the quality of seeds they have been recycling for years.
He added that it is important to provide improved seeds to farmers that are pest and disease resistant and that boost yields by 10 times, as is the case in Brazil with similar ecological conditions.
However, in spite of the above, Mr Royal warned about the impact of improved seeds on farmers as it erodes their natural seeds and gradually fosters over-dependence on seed companies like Monsanto.
“Farmers constantly worry that once planted, improved seeds cannot be replanted and that raises their cost for production. I believe that in the context of food security, farmers can deploy effective agricultural practices and have an excellent yield while still utilising existing seed types. That will prevent the extinction of our seed heritage and still give us a good level of seed sovereignty,” he said.
Climate-smart agriculture in Kebbi
Mr Aiki told PREMIUM TIMES that Kebbi State is already practising Climate Smart Agriculture.
“You know it starts from knowing your problem,” he said. “And we know we have climate change and we know the impacts. And then we are taking measures and these measures are already working.”
“You are working according to the dictates of the predictions, you are not trying to stop it because you cannot. So you now have to try to adapt, and in adapting, you try to get to the things that will match the situation. That is why we are introducing improved varieties that will mature early and or will resist the drought.”
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